Commerce police chief on leave after controversial arrest

- A beauty pageant queen claims she was called a derogatory name and wrongly arrested during a heated confrontation with an East Texas police chief. But there are conflicting stories surrounding about what happened.

Since Carmen Ponder, the winner of the 2016 Miss Black Texas Pageant first went public with her claims online on Wednesday, part of her story has changed.

She first accused the Commerce police chief of following her after some angry moments on the road and calling her a derogatory name.

The chief is now under investigation, but Ponder is admitting maybe it was somebody else.

City leaders called an emergency executive session Thursday night to talk about an incident that happened with their police chief, saying the facts of the case aren't all out there and have hired a law firm to independently investigate.

The young woman and her attorneys say regardless, she's the victim in this case and shouldn't have been arrested and are moving forward with a civil rights case.

“A trip to Walmart to run in and get one item went incredibly wrong,” Ponder said. “And I ended up not going home for another 24 hours.”

Ponder says a driver followed her to a Walmart over the weekend in Commerce and confronted her after angry moments on a nearby road.

The city of Commerce says the police chief, who happened to be shopping at Walmart, got involved in the confrontation between the two drivers.

City Manager Darrek Ferrell says the police chief is on administrative leave for his own good and to avoid the appearance of any interference in the investigation. He said it should not be perceived as disciplinary action.

Ponder says it all started with road rage after she passed someone who was teaching his daughter to drive.

The beauty pageant queen and college student aspiring to be an attorney says she never imagined going to Walmart would end up with her being handcuffed and taken to jail.

"I kept walking around saying how did this happen to me,” she recalled. “That is when I remembered my faith — that I have a relationship with God."

It started at 2:30 Saturday afternoon. Ponder passed a truck that she says was driving erratically.

“Black truck slowly turned in front of me, constant braking, driving weird,” she said. “So you don't want to be behind them.”

Once in the Walmart parking lot, things escalated.

“I see a black truck pull up right next to me, rolls down the window, starts yelling and cussing, screaming he was teaching his 14-year-old daughter how to drive and I should not have driving around her,” she said.

Ponder says the man kept yelling at her as she was going into the store.

“He finally yells, ‘What do you have to say for yourself? She's 14!’” she recalled. “That is when I finally turned around and said ‘it's illegal.’ And that's when I received the, ‘Oh whatever, you black b****.’”

When Ponder came out of the store, she says the man was still there with more people around him. She says they were in between the store and her car.

Ponder originally named Chief Crews as the original aggressor who followed her to Walmart and allegedly made the comment. But she now says while Crews was there, she isn't sure if it was another man who was there.

“As they were charging toward me, they were saying, ‘Do you know who this is? This is my chief! And you are going to apologize.’ I refused to apologize,” she said. “I gave him a look like oh you are the police chief and that's how you are acting.”

Ponder says she called 911 for help but was arrested for evading arrest or detention when other officers arrived.

But the city manager describes a different version of what happened. Ferrell said they are not released many details since the investigation is ongoing.

In a statement, Ferrell said police "responded to a call about a dispute between two motorists entering the Walmart parking lot. Though not on duty and present only as a customer, Police Chief Kerry Crews became engaged in the incident after being approached by one of the parties. Chief Crews made contact with the other party, but she failed to comply with his requests. As a result, she was arrested for evading arrest or detention when the responding officer arrived. She was then taken to the Hunt County Jail.”

“Diversity is something we take great pride in,” said Commerce Mayor Wyman Williams. “We have had an incident that has been reported over the last couple of days in an incomplete manner. Our actions during that incident can only be determined after an independent investigation.”

So far, city officials have not provided a police report because they say it isn't finished yet. They also say no other witnesses have come forward besides the people involved in the incident.

The Texas Rangers and the Hunt County Sheriff’ Office said neither of them currently investigating the incident.

Ponder is still facing a misdemeanor charge for evading arrest. She believes her charge should be dropped.

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